I am excited to share a perfect picture book biography for Perfect Picture Book Friday-
DANCING HANDS: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln
By Margarita Engle (author) and Rafael López (illustrator)
Published by Atheneum/Simon and Schuster August 2019
Nonfiction Picture Book Biography for ages 4-8
Themes: biography, arts, refugees
Places: Venezuela, United States
When Teresa was a little girl
in Venezuela, Mamá sang lullabies
while Papá showed Teresita how
to let her happy hands
dance across all the beautiful
dark and light keys
of a piano.
Born into a musical family, Teresa Carreño was a musical prodigy by the young age of six. Because of the onset of war in Venezuela, her father moved the family to the United States. As a homeless refugee, Teresa felt lost and homesick especially since few people spoke Spanish. To make matters worse, the United States was in the midst of the civil war. But, with a piano, Teresa was able to share the universal language of music. She continued to practice and was invited to play with orchestras in magnificent theaters. Soon she became known as “the piano girl.” One day, a special invitation arrived from President Abraham Lincoln. He wanted her to play for the Lincoln family in the White House. With her music, Teresa brought joy and comfort to the president during a very dark time in history.
Why I love this book:
Not only does DANCING HANDS introduce a Venezuelan musician who will inspire children but it shows an intimate time in Abraham Lincoln’s life when he is grieving the death of his son while trying to abolish slavery. Poet Margarita Engle’s language soars in phrases including:
hymns that shimmered like hummingbirds,
clouds that bucked and kicked across the wild sky like angry mules,
and notes that rose, swayed, rippled, and dipped like a bird in a blue sky above a green forest.
The illustrations, painted Rafael López, are the perfect accompaniment for the rich language in this biography. The mixed-media illustrations use color to evoke the beauty of Venezuela, the dark despair of the United States at war, and the joy of music which swirls across the pages.
DANCING HANDS is a book that will charm and inspire readers.
In 2018, Teresa Carreño was featured as a google doodle.
She also graced a Venezuelan postage stamp.
Read about artist Rafael López’s process in researching and illustrating Dancing Hands.
Learn more about award winning Cuban-American Margarita Engle who just completed her term as the 2017-2019 National Young People’s Poet Laureate. She has recently been awarded the 2019 NSK Neustadt award. Her site has links to resources for teachers.
Listen to one of Teresa Carreño’s most famous musical compositions, The Gottshalk Waltz